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13/11/2013 at 21:47

Hi, at my local church we've just have to take down 5 huge 70 year old poplars because they have destroyed the drains.  Now we want to replace them with small trees but finding it difficult to find a book that describes dimensions of the root balls.  Can anybody recomment such a book?  Just don't want to repeat the previous mistake.

14/11/2013 at 00:32

The root ball is said to spread to the same circumference as the spread of the branches. 

Poplar and willow are notorious for having roots that go in the drains.  Holly is lovely and stays neat.  Yew is of course traditional in churchyards.

14/11/2013 at 11:21

Thank you Welshonion - Holly is definitely a possibility I hadn't considered. I fancy growing trees favourable to birds such as Rowan but am unsure as to root spread. Same with Silver Birch which is indigenous to this area.   Conifers mostly have very small root balls but cut out a lot of light.  There must be a reference book somewhere - even if its for builders!

14/11/2013 at 11:39

Rowan will be fine, their roots don't spread far and don't seem to actively seek drains like willow and poplar do.  

Have a look at Crataegus x prunifolia - the ornamental hawthorn - spring blossom, wonderful autumn leaf colour and berries.  

Also  consider whitebeam - a tree that looks like a tree, but not too big, with a fairly shallow root system and again blossom and autumn fruits.  

14/11/2013 at 14:31

I would go for shrubs rather than trees. There are lots of beautiful shrubs out there, more so than trees. They tend not to have problem roots. Wirral is quite mild so you have a lot to choose from, I would go for shrubs that flower or are colored at different times of the year.

14/11/2013 at 14:34

I've just driven along a tree-lined street in a relatively modern development (1960/70s)  there's quite a variety of smallish  trees planted in the area, and I presume research has been done to choose trees whose roots won't invade the drains.  It might be a good idea to look in a similar area near you. 

14/11/2013 at 14:47

Hi Angela, Having taken out 22 conifers from my garden I can't stress enough how far their roots spread, its way, way further than their canopy, unlike broadleaf trees where as said, the rule of thumb is as far as the canopy. Rowans and Birch would be ideal as you say. Birch are very good for wildlife and don't cast deep shade. Of course the traditional tree is Yew, I don't know about the root spread of Yew though, but they are good trees for wildlife. The trees in our cemetry are mainly Rowan, Cherry, Service tree, Acer, and holly.

14/11/2013 at 15:03

I'd have re-routed the drains.

Isn't that a fallacy about the root system being a mirror of the crown?

Every churchyard has to have a yew and a holly though.  Nice for the long haul.  You may aswell add a monkey puzzle and ginko biloba.  All slow growers.

You will need some faster growing trees / shrubs too.

Usually churchyards are quite exposed.   You might need some kind of windbreak.   I figure that's what the poplars were grown for.





14/11/2013 at 17:23

Anybody else think monkey puzzles are one of the ugliest trees?

14/11/2013 at 17:31
Welshonion wrote (see)

Anybody else think monkey puzzles are one of the ugliest trees?


yes i do welshonion, ghastly things and totally out of keeping with the English landscape.

14/11/2013 at 17:39

Wayside, I think it is a fallacy about the root spread. Poplar, willow and wild cherry and ash roots are much wider than the canopy in my experience. Maybe others as well but I haven't tracked those. But these are forest trees, I'd go with something that's never going to be 100foot tall. Hawthorn would be my choice. Yew, holly and box would suit for me because if the ever did get enormous it would be someone else's problem after I'm in the cemetery. (or the crematorium in my case)


14/11/2013 at 17:48

Now hang on folks, we're Methodists you know! No churchyard, just a garden which is quite big and only me to maintain together with a man that comes round to mow the grass. And did I mention the incline and the sandstone bedrock that sticks through in places???  . Anyway, I'm done with shrubs because they get infested with nettles and convulvulas etc.  We (meaning me) would like to just have the grass cutting chap mow underneath?  You know it makes sense!


14/11/2013 at 17:57

OK, hollies and rowans then  - they don't need much root room at all.  Lots of berries for the birds and free berried hollysprigs for Christmas if you chose the right varieties 

Ma would be proud of you -  she's a lifelong Methodist 

14/11/2013 at 21:15

What has happened to the drains. Old ones were rigid clay pipes with many joints. A bit of heave from a passing root and "crack", the joint opens and Luvly the plant says, with a steady feed supply. If you now have modern replacement long PVC runs with few and flexible joints, much of your problem may have gone. Most trees that grow near water such as willow and poplar have searching roots, so avoid water-side trees. Surface rooters like silver birch may be OK. Cherries grow far and wide like all suckering shrubs and trees, amd want to take over the world, but may not go deep enough to bother the drains much, so don't assume spread is the same as deep rooting unless your drains are very shallow because of the rock.

14/11/2013 at 21:37

Thanks chaps!  Some great information here and I will definitely make use of it.


16/11/2013 at 14:56
nutcutlet wrote (see)
Welshonion wrote (see)

Anybody else think monkey puzzles are one of the ugliest trees?


yes i do welshonion, ghastly things and totally out of keeping with the English landscape.

I think that they add something. Native evergreen trees must number below 5 - Yew, Holly, Scots Pine? I usppose 400 years ago winter must have been a very brown place!

17/11/2013 at 17:07

Welshonion LOL, yes, I think they are an abomination.

17/11/2013 at 17:11

400 years ago I don't think many people were too bothered about how they gardens looked.

17/11/2013 at 17:30

Jim, I think there are still people who buy anything different and exciting without regard for how it looks with the rest of the garden. Probably the same ones that see a brilliant flower and don't notice the ugly bush it's growing on.

Not like us lot on the forum, we have superior taste

17/11/2013 at 17:44

Welsh onion, I SO agree about monkey puzzles; my landlord planted one in the front garden when I lived in London; I used to risk life, limb and eyesight trying to weed underneath it. Ghastly!

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